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Ready ... Fire ... Aim!
Posted on Apr 14, 2011
By Mr. Fish
I suddenly wondered if maybe I should have been stealing money from Barnes & Noble instead of just magazines and newspapers! After all, if physical starvation is a viable justification for stealing bread, then there must’ve been something starving in my soul that made me feel justified in stealing merchandise. Was it the fact that a huge portion of my week had to be spent engaged in an activity meaningless to me beyond the meager reward of a paycheck—not to mention that it also carried with it the torturous understanding that I was helping to perpetuate a value system that, in the simplest terms, served the upper class by guaranteeing the existence of a vast and exploited lower class? By defining myself as a person worthy of joy and requiring the sort of stark and intimate relationship with the universe that is unregulated by an abhorrent plutocracy, and as a person undeserving of the sort of humiliation that comes from the joyless exercise of having to subjugate all of my personal impulses toward self-fulfillment and self-respect in favor of helping to perpetuate a hierarchical social structure that I despise, it only makes sense that I’d want to cheat those societal filtration systems that hope to limit or qualify my intake of joy and that keep me from feeling the fullness of my existence.
In fact, I suddenly remembered reading somewhere in college before I dropped out how slaves brought to this country often engaged in rampant theft from their slave masters. Most interesting about the theft was the fact that it wasn’t characterized by the stealing of food to prevent any physical starvation; rather, it involved the stealing of the slave master’s personal belongings, perhaps as a way of satisfying the spiritual starvation which came as a result of the slave’s displacement from not only his homeland but also all that defined his selfhood and gave him at least a debatable measure of free will. It seemed as if a self needed to act independently of another person’s expectations (whether they were tyrannical expectations, as in slavery, or merely inferred, as in all the various forms of social etiquette) to recognize its own relevance and to assert its own value and to provide the human being that it belonged to with a definitive center from which to recognize its place in the world.
I had to ask myself: Who were these cruel and bitterly shortsighted sonsabitches who were responsible for maintaining, even nurturing, all the rules for societal conduct that made humanity’s collective concept of itself so goddamn inhumane? Noticing my surroundings and my predicament, I touched an imaginary finger to my forehead and thought, “Here’s someone who I can pin it on. …”
Just then the door opened behind me and then closed again and Heddy Markel, the great emancipator, strode past me with the manila folder that she’d earlier left with. She sat down on the corner of Alan’s desk and looked at me. I looked at her. She then reached into her folder, as before, and pulled out another cash refund receipt and held it in front of me, pointing to the customer information line. “Did you fill this out with your left hand, Mr. Booth?” she said as succinctly as if she were chiseling my last name into a headstone.
“I quit,” I said, as if her accusation had rolled over to me in the form of a soccer ball and I’d bent down and picked it up with my hands, thereby nullifying the rules of the game. There was a moment of confused silence while, rather than standing up and marching out of the room, which was typically what the words called for, I continued to sit in my chair as a way of demonstrating to Heddy Markel a relaxed confidence in my own innocence that existed so contrary to the picture that she was attempting to paint of me that it had the effect of casting her, for the first time, as the untrustworthy presence in the room. All of a sudden, with me as a non-employee, she had absolutely no jurisdiction over holding me there anymore. More precisely, with me an instant civilian, her accusations of theft had no legal recourse, particularly because in order for a civilian to be prosecuted at Barnes & Noble he needed to be caught in the act of committing the crime that he was being accused of and, of course, I was simply sitting in a chair.
Attempting to pull me back to the script, she stood up and put the receipt back into her folder and, like a sore loser reacting to her opponent’s surprise announcement of checkmate, said, “Employee theft is grounds for immediate termination, Mr. Booth. …”
“Termination? I already quit,” I said, standing up to be taller than her. And I was.
Attempting to continue the charade that I was outnumbered and that I should probably confess to my crime before it was too late, she said, “Does Alan have your home address, just in case the authorities need to find you?”
“Yes,” I said, humoring her while removing my name tag, knowing that the authorities that she spoke of were as much of a real threat to me as Aquaman or Wonder Woman or Jesus Christ.
“Alan will escort you from the premises,” she said, which he did, apologizing for nothing in particular the whole way out of the store. I walked back to my apartment in the cooling dusk like a liberated slave, unmoved by the fresh air filling my lungs, realizing that even behind barred windows there’s never any shortage of the stuff.
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